Ogoni: 18th Annual Celebration
When on this hallowed ground we and our forebears gathered on the 4th of January 1993, at the very first Ogoni Day, to give a dramatic expression to our struggle against injustice represented by political marginalization, economic strangulation and environmental terrorism, few realized that the tinny ripples of hope we were sending would assume the huge currents of transformation across the Niger delta and beyond.
The forces of truth in the message of our struggle and the unshakable commitment to peaceful methods have so transformed both the struggle and our region that we have come to represent the conscience of the nation. That those gathered here today are not only Ogonis, but also compatriots and friends from other lands are a proud testament to the fact that ours have become more of a metaphor for non violent agitation for justice, equity, democracy and corporate responsibility. This was rightly foreseen by the late sage, Professor Claude Ake, when he succinctly stated: “MOSOP and Ogoniland must survive and flourish for the sake of all of us. For better or for worse, MOSOP and Ogoniland are the conscience of this country. They have risen above our slave culture of silence; they have found the courage to be free and they have evolved a political consciousness that denies power to rogues, hypocrites, fools and bullies. For better or for worse, Ogoniland carries our hopes. Battered and bleeding, it struggles on to realize our promise and to restore our dignity. If it falters, we die.”
Few struggles in our part of the world have mustered such intellectual depth, survived overwhelming challenges and odds including an increasingly violent environment yet continued to maintain its strategic purity as a beacon of hope for the hopeless like the Ogoni struggle. That we have received solidarity messages for today’s event from 55 nations and peoples represented by the UNPO attests to the profound unparalleled international visibility and reaches which we continue to enjoy. We insist that in the absence of some urgent and significant positive change in Ogoni it will be difficult to continue to counter the arguments of those who over the last few years particularly have seen the case of injustice against Ogoni as an example of why non-violent advocacy should be abandoned in favour of armed resistance.
No time is more apt to send such positive message than now when our region is passing through a critical epoch. After the experiences of a frightening level of violence in the recent past and the present cessation of hostilities occasioned by the amnesty initiative, there is every cause to be concerned about the frustrations about lack of any discernable post-amnesty programme that would take care not only of the former combatants but also other equally angry but unemployed youths so as not to recede into the ugly past. Our country must get itself from the slumbering illusion of equating peace in the Niger delta with unhindered flow of oil and gas. As we believe that without addressing the fundamentals of the Ogoni and Niger delta agitations, the seeming quiet could be but a short-lived illusion, we therefore call on all authorities concerned to take full advantage of the amnesty window to address the fundamentals of the Ogoni and Niger delta struggle to prevent a relapse into the sad past.
On our part as peoples of the Niger delta, realizing that our government only responds to pressure, we should come together to quickly replace the now happily discarded pressure represented by armed militancy with another form of concerted peaceful advocacy behind the Report of the Niger Delta Technical Committee, which I had the privilege of chairing, as the needed substitute pressure to replace the pressure represented by violence.
For us as Ogoni people, as we begin a new decade in our struggle we must retool to achieve the goals encapsulated in our Bill of Rights. Whilst we may not have achieved all the demands in that Bill of Rights, looking back, I think we have every reason to congratulate ourselves that many years after we blazed the trail in setting out the demands in the Bill of Rights as the minimum condition for resolution of the Ogoni and by extension the Niger delta problems, there is now a grudging, even if half-hearted acceptance of them. On our demand for the protection of the Ogoni environment from further degradation, the UNEP environmental audit, whatever its imperfections, is now being launched. For our quest for the use of a fair proportion of Ogoni economic resources for Ogoni development, the federal government has now approved 10% equity for oil producing communities. We rejected Shell and its bad corporate practices and we were gratified when the federal government announced the decision to replace shell as an operator in Ogoni. However, our people are getting sick and tired when the same government that has failed to give expression to its decision two years after its announcement, repeatedly uses lack of commencement of oil exploitation, to deny us things. It is as well that we have an impressive of senior government officials here with whom we plead to assist in conveying to the federal government our people’s desire to cooperate with a credible replacement for shell.
To achieve another important plank of the Bill of Rights which is the quest to be granted “political autonomy to participate in the affairs of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as a distinct unit by whatever name called, provided that this autonomy guarantees, inter alia, political control of Ogoni affairs by Ogoni people”, we have commenced a formal request for the creation of a Bori state. I must here place on record the encouraging support we have so far received from our sons and daughters in government as well as the cooperation of our neighbours which has enabled us cross the initial constitutional huddles. Let me assure on behalf of our people that we shall work towards good neighborliness as well as accommodation on the basis of mutual self respect with our neighbours even in an eventual Ogoni state. It also is my fervent hope and belief that with the emerging improved relations between MOSOP activists and those in government we can achieve much for our people, for as I have repeatedly stated, it should not matter by whom but the fact that successes are scored for our people.
As our demands for our state has crossed the initial constitutional huddles, we have entered into alliances with others for the next critical stages which would begin before the end of the month. We shall in the days ahead be calling on all our people in government and our friends especially those in the National Assembly to further demonstrate their commitment to the cause by leading and supporting the next stages of this battle. I believe that with our collective efforts we shall overcome.
As I believe that the chances towards the actualization of this our historical demand for autonomy is significantly bright, it is therefore necessary that we start leading the struggle of democratically determining who leads, governs, and represents us as the core of the next stage of our struggle. In the days ahead we shall continue with much more vigour the series of town hall meetings begun last year where elected representatives meet and exchange views with the electorate. We would have to appeal to our people to embrace the initiative as we make even hesitant steps in improving how those in political office take into account the voices of our people. Bearing this in mind and our realization that most gains of our struggle stand diminished in the absence of good governance, we have decided to focus on good governance in the coming year. There is little doubt that had all the resources that have trickled down over the years been judiciously used for the betterment of our people, a meaningful lot would have been achieved. This also is one reason that informed our taking the rare steps of extending the current Ogoni Merit Awards to some government officials that have shown encouraging sparks in various aspects of governance, underscoring the point that we stand not just to condemn but to commend when certain things are done rightly.
As a people who stood at the forefront for the struggle against military rule, we must also lead in the struggle to replace the mockery of democracy with something meaningful which will bring benefits to the lives of ordinary people. To this end, we call on all Ogonis who have not yet done so, to go out and register as voters as soon as the process commences. Following up on the repeated calls by our Governor, HE The Rt Hon. Rotimi Amaechi, that only credible candidates be supported in the ensuing elections, MOSOP will in the days ahead, be mobilizing our grassroots towards ensuring that their wishes expressed through their votes would count. In consonance with the need to demonstrate that we are prepared to struggle resolutely and relentlessly for proper democratic representation in our area, we are launching “My Votes Must Count” campaign for the mobilization of our people towards defending our votes. Any politician or political party hoping to win our votes by other means or impose candidates on our people should better look elsewhere. Recent experiences have shown that government by ordination or imposition is just as dangerous as government by organized mob.
Whilst the parties might have their criteria for determining who they present for elections, we as a people must use the general elections to send a message to the parties that they stand a risk of losing our support if they do not present credible candidates.
Let me at this time appeal to our youths to eschew any temptations towards being used as political rigging machines or being engaged in violence. You need to avoid being deceived by those who may tempt you to pollute the sacred streams of a struggle that has been maintained with huge sacrifices. We have given up a lot not just to stay up but to move up. The spirit of Ogoni that enabled us say a resounding No to Shell with success also says No to all forms of violence.
The months ahead will be more challenging and our fate and those of our children and the struggle will be determined by how we approach the challenging situations. I have an abiding faith in the power of positive change. And I do believe that change will certainly come our way in this country. But for this to happen, few committed people in Ogoni and elsewhere in this country must step in the gap and do things differently and I know we will win. We have not come this far without a struggle and I assure you, we cannot go further without a struggle. I know we are up to the task and we shall create a model for others to follow. I wish you a happy New Year and Great Ogoni Day.